Council Makes New Public Safety Building a High Priority

     The Homer City Council is taking a close look at its Capital Improvement Project – or CIP – list, deciding which projects might be worthy of state and federal funding. One new project in particular received a lot of attention at a council work session Monday.

     Members of the council and various city commissioners held a day-long workshop August 17th to whittle down the CIP list and zero in on those projects that are most important to the city.

     Council members made a couple of key changes to the way they prepare the list, including focusing on only five projects at a time and, as Homer Mayor Beth Wythe explains, cutting out projects for non-profits and other groups that aren’t directly benefiting the City of Homer.

     "We will still include non-profit items in our packet," said Wythe. "But because when we take CIP items for non-profits to the legislature, we are then competing against ourselves, we have made the determination this year that only city CIP projects will go on the city's CIP legislative request."

     The top five projects that have so far made the cut are improvements to the water storage and distribution system, a sheet pile loading dock at the harbor, a fleet management plan for the fire department, local road projects and a new public safety building.

     That last one received much discussion at a council work session Monday. 

     Homer City Manager Walt Wrede says the public safety building project is one that is “least ready to get going” and the city will have much work to do before making a funding request to the state legislature or the federal government, including finding a location for the new building, coming up with a formal cost estimate and deciding how much money the city is willing to put toward the project.

     Still, there is a sense that funding for public safety is a high priority right now for the legislature and the governor’s office so now might be a good time to ask for state funding for a new building.

     The estimated cost for the project is just over $15 million. The building would house the Homer Police Department, the fire department, the dispatch office and a new jail. 

     Police Chief Mark Robl said two possible locations for a new public safety building would be the town center area in the middle of town or the present site of the HERC building, or the old Homer Middle School.

     "Either one works fine," said Robl. "Personally, I would prefer Town Center. That (location) might spur development and clean that area up nicely."

     Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter agreed, saying both the fire department and the police would need a centrally-located building in the heart of town. Painter said both departments could share some spaces, including break rooms, a fitness center, a reception area with public restrooms and a vehicle bay.

     Homer Mayor Beth Wythe said the donation of land at either city-owned property – town center or the HERC building – ought to look good to potential state or federal funders.

     Several council members, including Francie Roberts, seemed excited about the project, pushing Wrede and the city staff to get the preliminary work done so the city could make a push for funding.

     In a best-case scenario, a new public safety building would probably be a three-year project, with design and funding phases coming before construction, maybe in 2016.

     A final draft of the city CIP list should be submitted to the council before its next meeting September 9th.